The Rangers would like to retain free agent center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., but competition could be fierce if he hits the market. It’s important to remember that Sarge Jr. will be entering his age 32 season in 2007. Perhaps his athleticism will help him age better.
While Matthews’s .372 OBP is a career high, you’ll notice that it’s entirely batting average driven. He hasn’t improved his walk rate at all this season. The improvement in batting average is tied to more frequent contact – he’s up to 84% in that department. He’s also got a career high SLG. The increase can be attributed to doubles and triples, as Matthews’s flyball percentage and home runs per flyball have not changed. It stands to reason that he’ll regress to something near .270/.330/.440 in 2007.
Matthews has been abandoned by the Padres (twice), Cubs, Pirates, Orioles (twice), Braves, and Mets. He’s dealt with all kinds of injuries in the past few years: ribcage strain, hamstring strain, calf strain, sliced thumb from slicing a bagel, and wrist tendinitis.
Despite all this, I’m not down on Matthews as a free agent signing. The average center fielder hits about .270/.335/.425 and plays, well, average defense. Matthews should be able to hit a little better than that and play plus defense. Sure, he’ll decline from his career season. But CFs like Matthews don’t grow on trees. Would you rather have the defense of Dave Roberts out there?
Should the Rangers fail to retain Matthews, both Chicago teams, the Astros, Cardinals, and Rockies could all be interested. I’d be impressed if any team could get him for fewer than three years. He made $2.4MM this year, but could command $7-8MM annually on the open market.